Unforeseen Dangers Of Interlock Devices
by Richard D. DiTomaso, DiTomaso Law
February 25, 2020
All states now have some form of ignition interlock requirement to prevent those with drunk driving convictions from driving with alcohol in their system. New Jersey recently became one of 34 states that require interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, including first time offenders. While interlock devices have been lauded for their effectiveness in reducing drunk driving accidents, they also present unforeseen dangers, which have already led to fatal accidents.
New Jersey Ignition Interlock Law
A new law that went into effect in December 2019 expanded the ignition interlock requirement to all first-time offenders. It was introduced as a less restrictive alternative to license suspension for offenders, one that prevents drunk driving while allowing ex-offenders to continue going to work and supporting themselves. First time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 to .10 percent must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for three months. Those with a BAC between .10 and .15 percent must have the device installed for seven to 12 months.
Benefits of Ignition Interlock Devices
Alcohol is a factor in 30 percent of crash fatalities, accounting for approximately 11,000 deaths in the U.S. per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many states responded to this epidemic by requiring that ignition interlock devices be installed in anyone’s car who was convicted of drunk driving. According to an annual industry report, nearly 350,000 people in the U.S. now have ignition interlock devices, more than two and a half times the number of people who had them a decade earlier.
Studies prove that such devices have been effective in reducing alcohol-involved crash deaths. One study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers was associated with 15 percent fewer alcohol-related crash deaths than states that do not require interlocks for all offenders. However, while this life-saving technology has helped to eliminate risky behavior in terms of drunk driving, it has also given rise to risks associated with distracted driving.
Distracted Driving Accidents
Drivers with an ignition interlock device must first blow into a mouthpiece to start the car. Even if the driver passed that initial test, they may be prompted to perform another test while on the road, which is referred to as a rolling retest. A rolling retest requires a driver to pick up the mouthpiece and blow into it for several seconds or else the car will flash its lights and honk its horn until the engine is turned off.
Interlock devices have led to numerous distracted driving accidents in which drivers crash while attempting to complete the test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to weigh in on how retests should be conducted, and it remains to be seen how the issue of distracted driving will be addressed.